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Make It Stop: US Counter-Terrorism Still Getting the Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin Wrong


by Gordon M. Hahn

More than two years after the Caucasus Emirate-inspired Boston Marathon bombing and after more than seven years of suicide bombings in Chechnya and the North Caucasus every year since the Caucasus Emirate’s (CE) October 2007 bomning, the US government still cannot get the CE right. The U.S. State Department’s “Country Reports on Terrorism – 2014” issued by the Under-Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Under the Bureau of Counter-Terrorism claims the following:

Domestic violent Islamist extremists committed two terrorist attacks in Chechnya, in the North Caucasus, in the second half of the year – the first such major attacks in the region in a decade. The emergence and strengthening of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria and Iraq in 2014 prompted some expressions of official Russian concern about ISIL’s potential to influence domestic insurgent groups.

“On December 29, Russia’s Supreme Court issued a ruling recognizing ISIL as a terrorist organization and banned its domestic activity. With the ruling, participation in ISIL activities became a criminal offense under Russian legislation. In addition, Russia also took measures to address the issue of foreign terrorist fighters, which included law enforcement and judicial actions that resulted in the conviction of at least four Russian citizens, all of whom were sentenced to prison terms. Additional arrests were made but comprehensive information on foreign fighter cases was not publicly available.

“2014 Terrorist Incidents: The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) reported that there were 78 “terrorist crimes” committed in Russia, but it prevented 59 “terrorist crimes” and eight “terrorist attacks” from January to December 2014. In 2014, the majority of terrorist attacks in Russia targeted law enforcement and security services using suicide bombing devices and improvised explosive devices placed in vehicles. Especially in the regions of Dagestan, Chechnya, and Kabardino-Balkaria, the attacks were targeted and, in most cases, resulted in the death or injury of one or two persons.

On October 5, a suicide bomber killed five police officers and himself, and injured 12 persons in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya in the North Caucasus. This was the first suicide attack in Chechnya in 10 years (See the U.S. State Department’s “Country Reports on Terrorism – 2014,” from the Under-Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Under the Bureau of Counterterrorism, http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/2014/239406.htm).

I have highlighted the report’s key and rather shocking misstatement in the Russian section that there has not been a single suicide bombing in ten years – that is since 2005. In fact, the actual record is as follows: 1 suicide bombing in Chechnya in 2008, 11 in 2009, 2 in 2010, 1 in 2011, 2 in 2012, and 1 in 2013. Thus, in the period of just the last seven years there have not been zero suicide bombings in Chechnya, as the your US State Department’s counter-terrorism officials think, but rather 17!! All of these attacks (except, perhaps, the 1 in 2013) are detailed and documented in my now defunct (due to lack of funding) Islam, Islamism, and Politics in Eurasia Reports (see archived links to them here at http://gordonhahn.com/islam-islamism-and-politics-in-eurasia-report-iiper/). Many are documented in my most recent book, The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin.

With this level of competence in governance, who needs enemies.

In addition, notice the report’s phraseology: “Domestic violent Islamist extremists.” Although numerous other jihadi groups are referred to by name in the various country reports – including the Islamic State (IS, ISIL, ISIS) in the ‘Russia’ country report section of the report, the lone perpetrator of terrorist attacks in the North Caucasus – whether one is talking about Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetiya, or elsewhere in Russia – are carried out by ‘they who shall not be named’ – the Caucasus Emirate (CE) mujahedin. And this is AFTER the Boston Marathon attack and Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s widely-reported and well-documented intent and effort to join the CE in Dagestan in 2012 before returning to the US and carrying out the Boston attack. This follows the pattern in the DC think tank and US government and private media communities, which for years refused to mention the organization because it held to the belief that the jihadi terrorists in the North Caucasus were ethno-nationalist and even democratic (or at least democratizable) freedom fighters.

In the paragraph after those quoted above, the report notes that the second major (non-suicide) attack in Chechnya in 2014 when perhaps tens of CE mujahedin attacked Grozny was carried out by “militants allegedly affiliated with the terrorist group Caucasus Emirate.” In fact, there is nothing ‘alleged’ or questionable about it, since the perpetrators made a video during the attack and identified themselves as CE. Moreover, CE website later also identified the perpetrators, who were sent by a well-known CE amir.

It is quire clear that the State Department and other US government agencies are still under the spell of the numerous CE and Chechen apologists populating the DC think tank community [e.g., the Jamestown Foundation (Glenn Howard and Mairbek Vatchagaev), the National Endowment for Democracy (Miriam Lanskoy), CSIS (Zbigniew Brzezinski and Janusz Bugaiski)] and journalistic community (Anne Applebaum, Liz Fuller and others too numerous to name), and academia (Charles King, Brian Glynn Williams). My report “Caucasus Jihadism Through Western Eyes: The Failure og American Rusology to Understand the North Caucasus Mujahedin” (Gordonhahn.com Russian and Eurasian Politics, 18 February 2015  http://gordonhahn.com/2015/02/18/caucasus-jihadism-through-western-eyes-the-failure-of-american-rusology-to-understand-the-north-caucasus-mujahedin/) details many of the culprits and their deeds. The report was to be a chapter in my book The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin but it was constantly rejected by publishers because it was too “polemical.”

The US State Department could have consulted with some scholars on Russia, the North Caucasus, and the Caucasus Emirate who have gotten things right. But alas, they most usually consulted the DC activists of the type mentioned above. For DC, it would not have made much sense to consult those who predicted the CE threat.

Even after Boston, I was regarded in the very government circles that dropped the ball on the Tsarnaevs and the potential CE threat to the US as one who ‘should not be trusted’. In April 2014 I was invited to testify before the Subcommittee of Counter-Terrorism and Intelligence of the Committee on Homeland Security of the U.S. House of Representatives (http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CHRG-113hhrg88780/pdf/CHRG-113hhrg88780.pdf). After my testimony I was approached by a staffer of the subcommitte or the committee and told that they had prepared a draft report on the Boston Marathon attack based almost exclusively on my research report accessible at http://gordonhahn.com/2013/09/11/the-caucasus-emirate-comes-to-america-the-boston-marathon-bombing/. However, officials at the National Counter-Terrorism Committee (NCTC) vetoed the draft paper based on my work, saying that it could be sited only once in the committee report, as my work “could not be trusted.”

Yet it was the NCTC and other such bodies that had failed to stop an attack by a group I had been warning about for years. They had failed because the predominant, even monopoly view in Washington’s think tank and government echo chamber was that the Caucasus Emirate was not really a jihadi group but rather a disparate group of Chechen freedom fighters. In DC’s group-think environment, Russian intelligence warnings about Tamerlan — no less my own about the CE — could never have held water. Moreover, regardless — or perhaps because — of how wrong US intelligence and security organs had gotten it, the person who proved not only right but prescient was deemed ‘unworthy of trust.’ So blood ran in the streets of Boston where I did my graduate work. That blood is not on my hands but it flows in my soul everyday.

As to the Obama Administration’s terrorism report for 2014, it appears to be of a highly ideologized and politicized nature. The overwhelming majority of a report ostensibly about terrorism is in its Russia section actually mostly focused on Russian counter-terrorism legislation and Russian human rights violations. When describing these issues, words like ‘alleged’ or other qualifiers are not used as they are when the report discusses the CE jihadi terrorists.

In sum, this Obama administration report is a mixture of outright incompetence (or intentional disinformation) and political correctness. Now extrapolate that lesson onto government, DC think tank, and academic claims about the Ukraine crisis being solely ‘Putin’s war’. It’s getting very dark and not just in Russia.


Gordon M. Hahn is an Analyst and Advisory Board Member of the Geostrategic Forecasting Corporation, Chicago, Illinois; Senior Researcher, Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, San Jose, California Analyst/Consultant, Russia Other Points of View – Russia Media Watch; and Senior Researcher and Adjunct Professor, MonTREP, Monterey, California. Dr Hahn is author of three well-received books, Russia’s Revolution From Above (Transaction, 2002), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), which was named an outstanding title of 2007 by Choice magazine, and The ‘Caucasus Emirate’ Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland Publishers, 2014). He also has authored hundreds of articles in scholarly journals and other publications on Russian, Eurasian and international politics and wrote, edited and published the Islam, Islamism, and Politics in Eurasia Report at CSIS from 2010-2013. Dr. Hahn has been a Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (2011-2013) and a Visiting Scholar at both the Hoover Institution and the Kennan Institute.

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